Thursday, November 15, 2018

Flash Fiction #329 -- Connor of Northgate/13



Connor started to say something, then thought through what he'd just learned.  "You don't want to change things, but you just told me about Druce."

"After the fact.  I'd seen Nylia and Druce a long time before I came here. I saw myself sitting here and talking to you, though I hadn't seen much else."

"What sort of work do they expect you to do?" Connor finally asked.

"To make certain the fae lands remain safe, even if it means pointing people to a certain path.  I have to choose those battles wisely."

Connor nodded and finally slipped off the tunic, tossing it into the corner by his clothes trunk.  He doubted it could be salvaged.  He pulled out another tunic and put it on, feeling chilled still.

"Should I worry about Druce?" he finally asked.

"He won't do anything that will hurt his honor.  It's already taken a blow, but as long as you make nothing of the incident, the others will pass this off to the troubles that always arise as a fae comes of age.  If he had killed you though, it was something that would have hanged over him long after --"

Liam stopped, his breath catching.

"Long after I'm dead.  I'm human, not fae.  My days are numbered from the start."

Liam nodded, paler than he had been since his first days at the Keep.  From the bleakness, Connor wondered if Liam had seen his death -- but he asked nothing.

"Don't ask --" Liam stopped and nodded.  "You are wiser than most. Let us discuss other things.  I heard something about the testing next month.  What is this?"

"It has to do with the Royal Court. I suppose you don't deal with that very often in the Wildlands, right?"

"Not if we can avoid it," he said and gave a wry look to the walls around him.  "We don't like to live by anything but the rules of nature.  What will happen?"

"I was barely six the last time the testing happened. I remember sword fights to test prowess, I guess.  No blood is drawn."  He touched his own wound but hardly felt any pain.  "Fae who had just come of age came here from many places.  I guess Northgate has always hosted the testing.  I should find out why."

"Does it matter?" Liam asked.

"I like answers," Connor replied with a bit of a shrug.  "Searching for them keeps me busy."

"And out of sight."

He gave a nod of agreement.  "I learned that was wise the last year or so.  Lord Northgate and most of his people have always treated me well, but I don't want to cause trouble."

"I won't argue the point. You and I face the same problem; people don't know what to expect of us yet.  I've been told I will not be taking part in the testing, but there will be the pledges afterward, where all of us who have come of age  will be expected to swear our allegiance to the Royal Court."

"And that bothers you?"

"It bothers me on a personal level.  I am still a wildlander at heart, you know.  I still dream about the forests and the hills.  I still want to go home, but I know that they won't have me."

Connor had not expected to hear that sound of pain and loss, and Liam plainly regretted the words a moment later.  He lifted a hand before Connor could say anything.

"You could at least let me say something before you let me know it will do no good," Connor said and found himself amused by the words.

Liam laughed.  "I drove my sisters crazy, you know."

"Sisters?" Connor hadn't considered such things.  Family?  He had none, and he never looked for others to have them either.  Here at the keep family seemed to be connections that spread in wider circles than immediate blood relatives.

"Two sisters.  Twins.  Older than me by a decade and jealous when I first started getting noticed, though that ended quickly.  I think they were sorry to see me leave, but they never said so."

"I'm sorry.  I never thought --"

Liam gave a little shrug and then looked up again.  "There's going to be trouble at the testing and the pledges, because this time you are of age, too."

"I know," he said and leaned back.  "I planned to talk to Lord Northgate about it -- about what we should do.  If we should pretend that I don't really exist and keep out of the way --"

"No."  The word came out with more force than Connor expected.  "No, that will not help.  It will only make Lord Northgate appear to be weak -- or worse, that he's trying to hide you.  There are a lot of people interested in you, Connor.  You are the only human ever born to one of the Gate Keeps.  You belong to this place as much as Druce does, and oddly he would not disagree."

"You don't think I should stay out of the way?"

"Hide is the word you mean, and when you say that word, instead of skirting around it, you will know it won't come to any good."

"Yes.  You're right."  Connor sighed and decided he must avoid the easier and calmer answer.  "I don't want to be the cause of trouble, but it seems as though whatever I do, it's going to create a problem.  I thought I might ask Lord Northgate to send me back to the human world.  I don't know anything about it, but it might be the best way to --"

Liam looked up, and the worry on his face stopped Connor in mid-sentence again.  "If you went back, you would not be here when Lord Northgate needs you most."

That sounded dire.  Connor started to ask, but Liam shook his head, his mouth clamped shut as though he feared he had already crossed some line he should have avoided.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Flash Fiction #328 -- Connor of Northgate/12



Connor turned back to his classwork, intently staring at the page, and trying to parse words that danced around in his head and made no sense at all.  He finally closed his eyes.

The class passed quickly, and the group headed down to sword practice.  That suited Connor better today.

They changed partners daily. As luck would have it, Connor drew Druce who glared before they even started.

When Godewyn gave the signal, Druce leapt straight at Connor. If he hadn't been ready, Connor would have taken an injury and more than a bruise. The cutting edge had been aimed high enough to hit his neck.

Godewyn hadn't seen the interplay.  Connor would have to fight his own battle.  He was ready for it, in fact.  He probably had as much pent-up frustration as his sparring partner.  His sword came back in a practiced swing that seemed to surprise and annoy Druce.  However, Druce was quicker.

Connor took a cut in the arm after Godewyn called time. Druce never heard the order, his grim look giving way to pleasure as he forced Connor back a step and another.

 Godewyn waved magic that sent Druce stumbling back, cursing --

"Druce put down that sword and walk away."

Godewyn's voice sounded cold, precise --and deadly.  He held his hand up, magic still playing at his fingers.  Druce growled, started to come forward again -- and then finally realized the situation. The others stared at him, some of them shocked and dismayed that he had so lost his honor.

And he had.  Druce would have to work hard to recover from this attack.  He threw the sword aside and stalked away.  Nyla reached out with one ankle and tripped him.  He went stumbling into the corridor and cursed all the louder.

Godewyn came to Connor and took his arm in hand, magic slipping up over the wound and burying the pain.

"That was unforgivable," Nyla said with a shake of her head.

"Not so serious as that," Connor replied.  With the pain gone, his own thoughts cleared.  "His emotions just got the better of him for a moment. This has been building for a long time, and I might be partly to blame.  I've made it plain I'm no happier with him than he is with me."

Godewyn frowned but didn't disagree.  "You are to rest, today and tomorrow --"

"The cut wasn't that bad!"

"Rest," Godewyn insisted.  "Give everyone a chance to calm."

That, at least, made sense.  Conor bowed to the others and left the field, his tunic cut and still wet with blood, but the wound itself mostly healed.  Connor admitted to himself that he was feeling a little light-headed as well, so he made his way slowly up the stairs to his room.

Liam waited by the door.

"You knew this was going to happen," Connor said as he opened his door and signaled his companion inside.

"Yes," Liam replied, his head hanging, the hair forming a veil again.  "I'm sorry."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Things would have changed," he said with a shake of his head.  "There was worse that might have happened.  Sit down.  You're pale."

Connor settled on the chair by his desk.  He was, for a brief moment, angry with Liam -- but he pulled that back in line.  Liam was only an easy target.

"What would have changed?" he asked.  "And sit down.  You make me nervous, standing there like you're ready to bolt."

Liam took another chair.  He looked up finally, and Connor saw relief and determination in his face.  "There were so many factors, Connor --"

"Even for so small an incident as this?" he asked and began to unlace the tunic, anxious to have it off.

"Even for this, but mostly because you are more important here at Northgate than you admit."

"The only importance I have is in making trouble, I fear."

Liam started to say something.  He stopped and shook his head.  "You mean that."

"Yes, of course.  I'm human Liam.  I don't have any fae power, and being powerless means that my friends have to protect me while my enemies only have to wait for the right moment."

"Oh yes, as long as none of them care much about their own honor."

"True.  So I don't have to worry too much about Druce on that account, even though I am human and he might --"

"This has nothing to do with you being human," he said.

"I'm sure Druce --"

"He's not angry over you being human," Liam said and sounded so assured that it stopped Connor from saying more.  "Druce is mad because Nylia smiles at you and not at him."

"Nylia smiles -- oh."  Connor shook his head in disbelief.  "We're just friends.  All of us were friends."

"Druce is interested in more.  Nylia said she isn't, and he took that to heart.  He left the group in hopes that he'd get over it.  He hasn't."

This was not the kind of problem Connor had ever considered facing, and he sat there staring at Liam, half expecting him to say this was only a guess.  He didn't.  Liam looked certain.

"What would have happened if you told me before now?"

"You might have not gone to practice today, and Druce would have grown more annoyed.  He might have met you somewhere in the halls, and the confrontation would have been worse and without witness.  Or you might have gone, knowing Druce was going to attack you and annoyed him into thinking you didn't trust him.  Remember, he didn't plan to attack you. It came in a moment of frustration and anger.  Or you might have grown angry and attacked him to save yourself -- but no one else would have seen it that way.  Or --"

"That must drive you crazy," Connor said.  "How can you tell which path to take?"

"That's actually the easy part.  It's the one where I do nothing at all."

Friday, November 02, 2018

Flash Fiction #327-- Connor of Northgate/11


Chapter 3

Liam fit in well enough after the first few days.  Everyone had been uneasy, including Liam himself, but they soon grew calmer.  Spring spread to summer, which was pleasant enough.

Other changes came, though.  Nylia, not surprisingly, was the first to start feeling the change that came with the awakening of her powers.  She went into seclusion with older fae who would teach her how to control the magic that could get too quickly out of hand.  Rendon went next and Erlis not long afterward, leaving the nightly table empty of all but Connor and Liam.

He suspected Liam would soon go into retreat as well because the Seer did have other magical powers.  Connor tried not to let his own feelings show about the changes.  It was no more their fault that they were fae than his that he was human.  This was as inevitable as the sun rising, and Rion had been talking to him about it for months already.

But still -- still it hurt.  The friends he had known all his life had finally gone to a place he could not follow.  Connor sat awake at night and tried to curb the anger that threatened to take him.  He tried not to watch Liam with anxiousness, waiting for him to go away too.

As though they wouldn't come back.

He knew they would.  Others went through this right of passage.  Children were usually born every ten years, groups born to each age.  Connor had been lucky that he came when one group was barely a few months older than him.  He had fitted in.

Until now.

Erlis was the first to come back.  Connor and Liam found him at the table waiting for dinner.  He looked up and gave so bright a smile that Connor forgot all the worries he'd had about changes.

"It's good to be back," Erlis said as they settled in their places.  The others aren't out yet?  I can't believe I tamed the beast before Nylia!"

Erlis spent dinner telling them humorous stories about magic gone wrong. Even those beyond their table laughed. Druce did not, but then he had not gotten his call to power yet, either.  He glared at all of them.

Stuck being no better than human, Connor thought with a bit of a smirk.  He tried not to feel better for it.

Instead, he studied Erlis, who had changed in subtle ways.  He sat up straighter as though he had grown taller.  His face had lost any sign of indecision and confusion.  Adult, Connor thought and wondered how he would become an adult.  How did I happen to humans? 

Was there anyone he could ask?

The idea slipped away from him over the next few days.  Nylia showed up within ten days, and she too had some funny tales to tell, once Erlis shared some of his own again.
 
They drew attention and drew Connor into the stories with them.  They made him a part of this time, even when he could not share it.  He liked them more for it.

On the night after Rendon finally came wandering in as well, and shared his own jokes, it seemed that all was back to normal again.  Despite that they now had magic, they were the same.  Maybe wiser -- maybe that was needed to control magic -- but still the same as they had been the month before.

Liam often walked with him up the stairs.  He was calmer, too, though he still sometimes missed a step or turned his head to listen to something the rest of them could not see or hear.

"They are good friends," Liam said as they stopped by their doors.  "I hadn't thought to feel so much a part of this place.  And I don't fear my own magic so much now."

"Good.  Will you have a problem?"

"Some," he admitted and leaned against the door jamb.  He pushed his hair back out of his face.  Connor had started thinking he sometimes used the hair as a veil, hiding as best he could.  "I've been reading all I can about other seers, but it turns out they all had different problems.  Quite a few of them died when their magic came, though."

"No!"

He had not meant to sound so worried and upset, and it drew Liam's startled look this time.
 "It's all right. They were mostly seers who had been alone.  Cast out from their people.  I have help here.  Rion and Lord Northgate both have already taken considerable time with me.  More so than my own people would."

"You will be all right."

"I think so," he said and gave a sudden bright smile.  "Either that or I have a very active imagination when it comes to seeing the future."

He almost asked -- but he stopped himself.

"Oh, you are wiser than most.  Even Nylia has asked for some hints.  And Druce demanded I tell him, but that came to a quick end when Rion got hold of him and took him straight to Lord Northgate.  He hasn't talked to me since.  We better get some rest.  Tomorrow --"

He stopped and blinked, then shook his head and went into his room without saying another word.

That, Connor decided, was going to be annoying.

Connor didn't sleep well, woke up early, and went down to breakfast with Liam, who was always quiet in the mornings.  It had made him wonder how well his friend slept most nights.

Breakfast and the morning class were normal, which he realized, would not be going on much longer.  As the others gained more control of their powers, they would go off to serve in their chosen places at the keep.

And what would he do?  Perpetual student?  Growing old here --

Which was something else he didn't think much about.  He would grow old and die. The others would not.